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Archive for April, 2018

 

Whether this matters in the long term, I do  not know. But for the time being, it gives me the feeling that I am somewhat in control of my narrative. Here’s a post from a few years back that speaks a bit more about artists speaking about their work and the difference between doing so with words that actually say something substantive and those that are mere fluffy word clouds.

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David Hockney- Mulholland Drive 1980

It is very good advice to believe only what an artist does, rather than what he says about his work.

 –David Hockney

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When I first read this quote from the great British artist David Hockney, a painter whose work I admire and always find very interesting, I wanted to be offended. After all, I am an artist who has said plenty about his work through the years– this blog and gallery talks being evidence of that– and have tried to be always transparent and forthcoming when talking about my work. But even so, I nodded in agreement when I read his words.
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Part of my own desire to be honest and open about my work came from the frustration I felt in reading other artist’s writings that were filled with ArtSpeak, that way of seeming to say something important and meaningful without really saying anything at all. The words danced around all form of meaning and never fully jibed with the images that accompanied the words, leaving me with a single word resonating in my mind.
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Bullshit.
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And I know bullshit. I was a longtime bullshit artist. I sold swimming pools and automobiles– yes, I was even a used car salesman!– to the public for quite some time. I knew that you could sell by focusing on the strengths of the product and by dancing around questions about its drawbacks. Fill any voids with words that sounded like they were filled with meaning but really made no commitment to anything.
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For me, there came a time when I was determined to not deal anymore in that manner of speaking and when I finally came to painting, I knew I didn’t want my work to fall into that pool of bullshit.  I wanted to tightly control how I represented my work and to be completely open about it.  It’s whole purpose for me was my own honest expression and I want

David Hockney- Arranged Felled Trees

ed people to be able to witness that without a crap filter between them and the work.

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For the most part, I feel that I have been able to maintain that through these last several years.  Oh, occasionally I feel myself straying off the path but I simply remind myself that the product I am representing is the core of my self and once I cross that line I would be betraying everything art has provided for me.
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But these are just words and maybe you should take them with Hockney’s advice in mind.
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The musical Hair opened on Broadway on this date 50 years ago, back in 1968. I grew up listening to this album and most of the songs feel like they are ingrained somehow in my DNA. Hailed as the American tribal love-rock musical, it was a groundbreaking show with songs that permeated the culture and helped define the era. Aquarius certainly feels like that time and that year.

And what a year 1968 was, here and around the world.

There were the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F. Kennedy in April and June.

In a stormy election season, the 1968 Democratic Convention  was an eight-day violent skirmish in the streets of Chicago between police and protesters. Ultimately, Richard Nixon was elected president.

Here and around the globe, student anti-war protesters filled the streets and sometimes, as in the cases of Columbia University and Howard University, took over and occupied buildings.

North Korea captured the American surveillance ship the USS Pueblo and held its crew prisoner for 11 months. North Korea released the crew but kept the ship. It is now an exhibit Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang.

There was the Tet Offensive and the My Lai Massacre in Viet Nam.

You had the Prague Spring that results later in the year with the Russians marching into Czechoslovakia to exert their control.

Before the opening of the 1968 Mexico Olympics, students protested in the streets that the money spent by the country for the Olympics would be better put to use in much needed social programs. The protesters were surrounded by the army and fired on, killing over 200 students and injuring over 1000 more.

The Olympics themselves were memorable with Bob Beamon soaring to an unfathomable record in the long jump. And, of course, there was the iconic image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium for the medal ceremony for the 200-meter run. Bare-footed with their heads cast downward, both raised gloved fists in the Black Power salute.

That would be enough for most years– maybe most decades. But there was even more that I don’t have time to go in here that make it one of the most chaotic and super-charged years in our history.

And among all that, the subversive sound of Hair played on. Well, it’s been fifty years and the world seems to have rotated back to find us in a similar time of chaos.

Some things never change, I guess.

So, for this week’s Sunday morning music I thought something from Hair would be fitting. So many great choices  but here are a couple of  better known selections, both of which became hits for artists that covered them in the following years. The first is Easy To Be Hard which was hit for Three Dog Night. The second is the title anthem which was #1 hit for The Cowsills.

Give a listen and have a good Sunday.


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Marsden Hartley- Himmel 1915

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I have come to the conclusion that it is better to have two colors in right relation to each other than to have a vast confusion of emotional exuberance. . . I had rather be intellectually right than emotionally exuberant.

–Marsden Hartley
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I have been a fan of the paintings of Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) for some time now. I was reading about him earlier and came across this quote  that caught my attention, making me think about what I hoped to accomplish in my own work.
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I often speak about creating work that has an immediate emotional impact achieved with colors and forms. But maybe, as Hartley’s words have prompted me to think, this first purely visceral and emotional impact is pure exuberance. Just a gut reaction that comes in that instant before the mind has time to engage.
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A shout that makes you turn and look.
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While that is good and desired, it’s doubtful that it can stand by itself and have a lasting effect unless it has an intellectual aspect to engage the viewer’s mind. There needs to be a balance between the mind and the gut.
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If you turn at hearing a shout and the person doing the shouting is shouting just to make you turn and has nothing more to say to you, you keep moving and soon forget that person. But if you turn and the shouter has something more to offer, you might linger a bit to consider what is being said and engage in a conversation.
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When you do move on, you take something from this engagement with you, something that will stay with you.
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I am not sure this an apt analogy but it immediately came to mind on reading Hartley’s words. I don’t exactly know how this mind/gut balance works or how it can be accomplished in reality. Maybe even consciously trying to do so throws the whole thing off kilter.
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It’s early in the morning and I am just thinking here. Time to go try to put it into action…

Marsden Hartley- Portrait of a German Officer 1914

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“We are animals, born from the land with the other species. Since we’ve been living in cities, we’ve become more and more stupid, not smarter. What made us survive all these hundreds of thousands of years is our spirituality; the link to our land.”

Sebastiao Salgado

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I featured the photos of the Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado here several years back. Originally an economist, Salgado took up photography in his thirties and embarked on an epic journey to document the great beauty and darkness the of this world, photographing grand vistas and wildlife along with refugees fleeing genocide and workers in the grimmest of conditions. He does so in a wondrous fashion that has a way of connecting us in the present day to all the ages that came before.

This feeling of connection definitely hits me every time I come across his photos of the gold miners in Brazil, taken in 1986 and included in his 2005 book, Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age. I love this title. The work has that archaeological feel, like artifacts that will stand as lasting images of our time here on Earth.

These images feel absolutely biblical to me. It takes away any doubt I may have previously held about how man created the ancient wonders that still stand today. The workers shown may be contemporary miners but they could just as easily be slaves in the age of the Egyptian pharaohs. Or lost souls trapped in one of the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno.

If you get a chance please take a look at some of Salgado’s work. It is amazing imagery and truly human in every sense of the word.

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Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence- This Is Harlem 1943

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My belief is that it is most important for an artist to develop an approach and philosophy about life – if he has developed this philosophy, he does not put paint on canvas, he puts himself on canvas.

Jacob Lawrence
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Exactly right.
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I often echo the advice in these words from the great Jacob Lawrence when speaking to students. Having all the talent and skill in the world doesn’t matter if one doesn’t have a viewpoint or don’t have something to say to the world.
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Having a philosophy about life and a need to express their viewpoint guides the artist, allowing them to make the most of whatever talents and skills they do possess.

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Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you.

–Eckhart Tolle
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This new painting has been sitting within my sight for several days now. I can only speak for myself but I find it really easy piece in which to withdraw, imagining myself in that place, in that moment under that sky. There’s a sense of ease and comfort in it for me.

It just feels right.

Yet there is something enigmatic about it. While there is an air of easiness and acceptance in the painting, there is also a feeling that there is some sort of questioning taking place.

Perhaps a wondering of the why’s and what’s and how’s of this universe and our place in it?

Or the existence of a god or gods? Or the nature of good and evil?

Or perhaps something less weighty.

But even with this questioning there is still a great calmness and ease, as though the Red Tree in this time and place knows that having those answers would not make this particular moment any better.

And perhaps in that moment when a question does not require a response, an answer shows itself.

Perhaps…

 

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Running around this morning, trying to get some things tied up but thought I’d share an interesting version of the Jimi Hendrix classic Hey Joe as performed the Joscho Stephan Trio. Stephan is a German guitarist who primarily plays in the gypsy jazz style, as you might deduce from the beautiful guitar he plays. This is a fun and energetic twist on the song, a shot of ear caffeine to get the week off on and running.

I thought I’d throw in this old doodle, an oddity from twenty years or so back.  Done very quickly with a Sharpie and embellished with a little watercolor,  the figure is a simplified and stylized representation of the way in which the figures from my early Exiles series were painted, composed from blocks of color.  It was never meant to be seen outside my studio but I like this for some reason. He looks like he could be playing Hey Joe.

Give a listen and get your motor running.

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